It was last Saturday, August 31st 2013, which became a red letter day for His Wyeness, Geoffrey Maynard of Hay. Having secured the fishing rights last year on a kilometre of the River Wye above his home town, he has devoted more time and effort to the pursuit of his first-ever British salmon than some might consider healthy and given the rarity of such migrants I considered his determination admirable at the very least. Depending on the seasons he’s dropped a spinner onto every square foot of the river or sent a large, ornate fly into every likely-looking run but – until last Saturday – had enjoyed little success. Frustratingly, he had hooked two fish in the early months of this year but both had evaded capture for one reason or another (His Wyeness prefers not to talk about it)
But then, on the 31st August and with a blinding sunrise warming my face, I texted His Wyeness and expressed my confidence in his success should he pursue Salmo Rex this day. “See you there” was the simple reply and within 30 minutes we were seated in the hut and waiting for the kettle to boil. It matters not how many cups of tea or coffee are consumed before leaving home – you must start the day with a cuppa in the hut: it’s traditional and it affords the chance for fellow Brothers of the Angle to catch up on each other’s lives.
Although salmon fishing on that morning had been my idea, only His Wyeness possessed the zeal to assemble the appropriate rig; my made-up NanTec Specialists were primed for barbel and I was too idle to break out another rod and reel. And so, 9 o’clock saw me in the hut swim and watching for rod-nods while, unseen by me, His Wyeness was thigh-deep around the bend wielding a 14ft salmon fly rod and great lengths of specialist salmon line…
Our stretch of the Wye simply must be one of the very best: it is roughly ‘S’ shaped and features narrow, deep runs; shallow slacks; rippling, musical bends and a large, deep, sullen pool that moves around moodily in search of a fight. It’s almost threatening at times. It’s mean and silent, and on the foreboding days of late autumn when dark winds lift the last leaves from the beeches the lone mid-week angler might feel he is the last person on Earth. Evening falls early and quickly yet the memory of summer is fresh. High winds rush lapwing in search of refuge; they bully the blue-black sky for another to take its place and they bring in the dark solitude known best by anglers and other spiritual types. When these elements coalesce the pool is at its fearsome best, striking from below the surface calm and dragging it down amid the boiling swirl. What is certain death to us is the guarantee of life to those we pursue and it is, perhaps, this fundamental conflict which draws us into the world of those we can never know.
With just twenty minutes and no bites in the can my senses were roused by his Wyeness’s eager phone-call to “come quick with the scales and a camera – I’ve got a salmon!!” Within half a minute two cubes of pink indispensible bounced below a pair of quiver-tips and I was on my way across the meadow, half-walking, half-running and willing myself to the pool that instant. Not old but no longer young, I consciously paced my path to where Geoff would be found breathless and beaming, crouched in the shallows with a genuine Wye Fish in his net.
And there he was! He raised his head on hearing the crunch of boots on gravel and spanned the banks of the Wye with his grin – he’d done it! All the early mornings, all those evenings, all the days when those wonderful, eco-friendly canoeists had rendered the pursuit of salmon all but useless…they were all behind him now, for here, in this net, just feet from his jubilant chops was a pristine specimen of Salmo Rex, all the way from the Atlantic.
The fish was afforded the care one gives to a new-born; gently lifted from the net only briefly for each shot, admired, then returned to the current. It swam strongly side-on to the flow – evidence of its complete recovery from the fight. We don’t do high-fives. I shook the hand of His Wyeness and, in the authoritative manner of a doctor or trusted butler, I ordered him back to the salmon hut to recover from his experience. He did not argue.
“Go on…” I said, “I’ll bring your rod back. You just go and relax for a while…you’ve had quite a shock” Willingly chastised, His Wyeness floated back across the field in a state of stunned euphoria…